As promised, Audra joined Colton for lunch with his friends. They were skeptical of her at first, but they warmed up to her pretty fast. All five of them were laughing together, making jokes as if they had been friends for years.
Jess and her friends didn’t bother her, either. The girls were jealous of her relationship with Colton, yes, but no one wanted to get in-school suspension, so they kept quiet. And every weekend Colton took Audra out to either a park, or dessert shop, or coffee shop, or anywhere that she wanted. He was keeping his promise of making the next four months the best he could make them.
Before either of them knew it, a month had gone by. They were nearing the end of November when things started to get a little strange.
One Tuesday morning, Audra was called into the office, which was peculiar in and of itself. But she went, and the moment she stepped inside the room, her heart stopped, her eyes widening in shock.
Standing next to the principal - Mr. Knudson, who looked rather confused - was a tall, somewhat muscular man in a formal short sleeved shirt and jeans with jet black hair, fair skin, and piercing green eyes. As she stared at the man, she caught sight of a scar on his inner right forearm that caused her breath to catch in her throat, her hands clenched at her sides.
The scar wouldn’t be that important, and she would’ve ignored it, but it didn’t help that she knew the man, and that the scar was in the shape of the constellation Ophiuchus.
She knew this man full well. Asa Berkeley. Her cousin. Second when it came to a special government organization commonly known amongst all stars as Equinox. D - otherwise known as the “Examination of Questionable, Unique, Intergalactic and Nefarious Organisms; Tenth (X) Division.” They’re a real nail-biter among stars.
After another few moments of staring, Audra’s eyes darkened, something rare to see for those who know her. The principal even flinched at the intensity of her gaze.
“What’s the nutrix doing here?” she said through clenched teeth, her voice low and full of venom.
The principal, who was usually a kind man who always had a smile on his face, gulped loudly, and he had to avert his gaze from Audra, unable to take the hatred in her eyes and the anger radiating off her. “Au- Audra, now- now now. Don’t do anything too- um, too rash…”
Asa had turned to face her, and a smile grew on his face. He extended his right hand to her for her to shake. “Agent Berkeley of Equinox D. You already know this, but it’s a formality. It’s required.” The scar on his inner forearm flashed a faint gold color.
Her freckles flashed in response. She didn’t shake his hand, as her hands were clenching and unclenching at her sides.
That was all the response he needed. He stuck both hands in his pockets. “I’ve come to check on your condition, and I am to return to check in on you again in… three months from now, when your time runs out.”
“What condition?” Mr. Knudson asked, his brows furrowed.
She shook her head, holding her arms to her chest as she took a step back. Her eyes darted between Asa and the principal as a sudden wave of fear and panic washed over her. “No. Not- Not here. Not now. I don’t want people knowing about it. They can’t know about it.” She shivered, coughing a few times. As she coughed, a silvery glow flowed through her veins, crawling up her neck and working its way up her face, disappearing when she stopped.
Asa clucked his tongue, shaking his head as he took a step closer. “Now now, Audra. You know doing that will only make things worse for you.” He was closer to her, now, and was looking down at her. “Besides, once we’re done here, I’ll fill your principal in on everything he should know. I mean, he is your principal. He should already know about it.” Her eyes softened a little, and when he spoke again, his voice was gentle. “Audra, I know how you feel. We stars aren’t supposed to reveal ourselves to the humans. Things get complicated that way. But your principal is tasked with the duty to make sure his students are taken care for. That they’re getting everything they need. To keep your condition from him? The law requires that we tell the head person in charge. To not tell him would be disobeying the law. You can’t do that. Not after last time.”
She bit her lip as she looked away, staring at the floor. She knew he was right. Eventually, she would have had to tell Mr. Knudson about her condition. So instead of protesting, she gave in and nodded as she removed the gloves covering her arms.
It was starting to get worse. The skin from her elbows to the tip of her fingers was getting paler, losing its color. What appeared to be frost was forming around her arms and hands, which were shaking slightly, but barely noticeable at a glance.
Asa’s lips pursed as he stared at it. After a moment, he reached forward and gently put a hand on her forearm. A sort of white haze formed around his hand, moving as if it were fire. A faint array of colors flowed through it.
Mr. Knudson watched the sight before him in fascination and awe, his mouth slightly agape. His brown eyes were wide.
Audra merely looked away from her arms as he gently ran his hand over her veins, barely feeling any heat, which was the first thing she felt in a long time.
When he was done, he lowered his hand, examined his work, then nodded as he turned briskly, walking to his suitcase. He pulled out a pair of long fingerless gloves, much like her other pair, only this pair was silver and sparkled in the light. After looking them over, he turned and walked back over to Audra, handing them to her as he took the old pair.
“Those should slow the process a little bit more,” he said gently. “I’d say… maybe by half a month? But you have to keep your emotions in check. Do you understand? I’m close to a breakthrough in my studies. If you’d just take the-”
“No. I can’t,” she said hastily. A pause “I won’t. You know that, Ophiuchus,” she added softly. “It’s not possible for me.”
He sighed, but nodded, running a hand through his hair. “I- I know. I’m just…” Another sigh. “You know I can’t bear seeing you…” He shook his head a bit as he trailed off, unable to finish what he was saying. His green eyes were brimming with tears.
Audra sighed compassionately and stepped towards him, embracing him in a gentle hug. “I know, patruelis. But you need to be strong for my family. I may hate the fact that you’re with Equinox D., but I can’t hate the fact that you care about me, and that you’re family..”
She felt his stiffen at her words, then hesitantly returned the embrace. After another couple moments, he pulled away from her, looking down at his shoes. “Audra… I have something I need to tell you. And I know that it could make things worse for you, but you have a right to know. I can’t keep it from you.” He took a deep breath, slowly letting it back out as he wiped away his tears with a thumb. “It’s- It’s about your family… They’re- They’re all gone.”
Her brows furrowed a bit, confused. “They’re… gone? Gone where?”
“No, Audra. ‘Gone’ as in…” He let out a slow breath. “Audra, they were killed. We don’t know how yet. It happened late last night.”
Audra couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t speak, or even think straight. They could really be gone, could they? That just wasn’t possible. Her family is all warriors. They’re fighters. They couldn’t really be gone… could they?
She hadn’t realized she was trembling until Asa was guiding her over to a chair, helping her sit down. He and Mr. Knudson were saying something, but she couldn’t make out the words.
They can’t be gone, she thought. I should’ve been there. They can’t be gone. I could’ve protected them. It should’ve been me. They can’t really be gone. They can’t…
Her thoughts went back and forth, almost as if they were at war. She drew in a shuddering breath as she slowly raised a shaking hand to her mouth, pressure building in the back of her throat and eyes brimming with tears.
They can’t be gone. I should’ve been with them. I never got to say goodbye. They’re warriors. They can’t be gone…
She felt a gentle hand on her arm and started, looking over to see who it was.
Her eyes landed on Colton, who was staring at her with concern and worry. He slowly lowered himself onto his knees, his free hand reaching up to gently brush the tears she hadn’t realized were falling.
He murmured soothing words to her, gently stroking a hand through her hair and running a light finger over her face in a pattern. After doing this for a few minutes, he stood, then bent and picked her up in his arms, holding her close to him. He said something to Mr. Knudson, who agreed with whatever it was he had said, and took her out of the room, walking down the hall.
He took her to a sort of lounge room where people went if they migraines, or if something happened and they need a break from the world. Luckily no one was in there at the moment, and he took Audra over to a couch in the back corner, dimming the lights once he’d set her down. Once he sat down next to her, he pulled her into his arms, holding her close and stroking a hand over her hair.
It was then that she broke down in tears, unable to contain it any longer. Colton had started humming a peaceful tune softly to her, holding her just a little closer to himself.
Her brows furrowed slightly as she felt herself slowly starting to calm down, her tears starting to abate. She opened her eyes and lifted her head to look at him, resting her head against the front of his shoulder.
He smiled softly at her, but didn’t pause in his humming.
Her eyes slowly shut, and soon she found herself in darkness, tears in the corners of her eyes.